Palatial puzzle

Last Updated : 18 September 2010, 12:21 IST
Last Updated : 18 September 2010, 12:21 IST

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 The palace consists of eight galleries  (displaying nearly 4500 artefacts)  in 114 halls, with a colonnaded facade, a domed tower, high windows, beautifully ornate pillars and more, all of it befitting  the Nawab’s durbar, which was held here till a 100 years ago. The palace was also used as a residence by the Nawabs and by high-ranking British officials.
Murshidabad, the capital of the Mughal Bengal is  a town, 200 kilometers from Kolkata. The tourist, moving about the sleepy town would be surprised to find the Hazar Duari, a huge mansion 450 feet long, 200 feet broad and 40 feet high, looming in a rural setting, as if straight out of Arabian Nights. The saga of this grand palace, forgotten by history is a very poignant one.

The dying embers of the Mughal Empire found the Subedars ( viceroys) assuming independence and Murshed Kuli Khan, the Nawab-Nazim of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa was the founder the  Murshidabad Nawabi dynasty. After the sell out by Nawab Mirjafar in 1757 during the battle of Plassey to the British, the Nawabs  became a pawn in the hands of the British and were little more than rubber stamps of the British Governor General in Kolkata.

By 1829, the ancient palace  had become damaged due to the vagaries of the Ganges (known locally as the Bhagirathi) nearby and the Nawab decided to build a new palace. As befitting an opulent ruler, the plans were etched by the best available architect, in this case,  a British specialist. It cost Rs 10 lakh to build in that era, when the masons were demanding only two annas per day as their wages, compared to Rs 3000 today.  On that basis alone, the building would cost today, at least  Rs 200,40 crore.

The  edifice has more than a 1000 doors with 200 false doors. But early in the 20th century, with the advent of the motor age, Murshidabad was too far from the gaieties of Kolkata and the Nawabs began to reside in that metropolis.

Then came the Partition  of India and in order to ensure that the river Bhagirathi does not became a source of strife between India and Pakistan ( as it cuts the Murshidababd district into two) the Radclyffe Award of 1947 gave the district, a Muslim majority one, to India.

Already the Nawabs, who had an income of nearly Rs 20 lakh per annum in the 1920’s ( worth Rs 500 crore today) found that as a zamindar, his income after Indian Independence had vanished to a trickle. In 1959, the Nawab died and his heirs were not able to agree about the division of property.

The whole estate is now managed by the officers of the West Bengal government, the Nawab’s  descendents finding it too expensive to maintain the palace, which requires 100s of servants. In order to cover a portion of the expenses, the West Bengal government decided to permit tourists inside the palace  and scores of visitors from Kolkata  and the surrounding districts come here to see the famous palace every day.

Hazarduari  has 20 galleries containing 4,742 antiquities, of which 1,034 are on display for public viewing, on rotational basis.

The valuable treasures, consist of paintings numbering nearly 500, objects of art like the multi coloured chess board in black marble,  an armoury, a 14000 volume library with many priceless  tomes of English and Arabic literature, a grand throne  and two canopied masnuds and nine royal chairs.

The paintings are a mixed lot.The most valuable one being the one painted by the famous British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, depicting the death of Sir Thomas Moore at Coronna during the Spanish wars in 1809.

It is said to have cost Rs 3 lakh  in the 1920s and would cost today nearly Rs 3 crore. The Royal armoury has among many historic weapons, the sword of Siraj ud Daula, the Indian hero of 1757 battle of Plassey, the emblazoned shield of emperor Nadir Shah of Persia who destroyed Delhi in 1739, the battle flags of the nawab’s army unfurled at Plassey in 1757 and many 17th century guns with interesting names.

The three- storied  palace converted into a museum, boasts  50  halls and galleries.  
The layout is grand though predictable and there are vast stone floors, sweeping staircases and many windows.

The contents  of the building are interesting- a silver chandelier with 96 branches, sent by Queen Victoria in the 19th century as a gift to the Nawab, a silver dressing table set used by Siraj ud Daula’s  mother and a Burma jade dinner set, that is reported  to change colour at the touch of a poison. There is a collection of arms, vintage  cars, howdahs in silver, elephant tusks and an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures.

The second floor (entry possible only with special  permission) has a great collection of books and manuscripts. The library contains more than 3000 manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and Urdu and about 12000 books in English, Arabic and Persian languages.
 Here you will see some of India’s most priceless manuscripts such as the original Ain-I-Akbari and Akbarnama,  written by Akbar’s  court historian Abul Fazal. Among the 15 antique copies of the Quran, is  a copy penned by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and another Quran, weighing close to 20 kg and measuring 4 ft X 3 ft, written by Haroon al  Rashid , the famous Caliph of Baghdad

Other historical attractions near Hazar Duari are the Nimak Haram Deohri (Traitor’s Gate) where Siraj-ud-daula was assassinated after the Battle of Plassey, the Cossimbazar Rajbari, the Great Imambara, Moti Jhil (Pearl Lake) and the ruins of the Katra and Medina mosques.

Published 18 September 2010, 12:21 IST

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